Years ago I began to say, “I don’t want to be called a Christian. I would rather be known as a Christ-follower.” This has become popular. I really wish I patented all the cool things that I started doing and then the world followed! I mean I discovered Pearl Jam and flannel, grew a beard ten years ago, and was doing liturgy in the basement of a Baptist church before anyone had heard of Brian McLaren.
Okay, I know that all of that seems far-fetched, but it is really true. Sort of. I lived in Tennessee when I discovered Pearl Jam, so it is entirely possible that people in Seattle had heard of them.
But I have longed for a purer version of following Jesus since high school. That does not make me unique. It is the longing I have heard whispered and preached for my entire life.
I just want to follow Jesus. But the thing is, we have very few models, or way too many. As you have probably gathered by now from the blog, I typically follow a Benedictine model, at least in theory.
For the last several years I have been also using Dallas Willard to articulate and teach a version of discipleship. It isn’t that Dallas is all that innovative; he just says things in a way that gets past the baggage that many of us have and more fully explores the issues at the core more thoroughly than I have found elsewhere.
But he isn’t complete. His articulation of the life of the Holy Spirit is anemic, for one example. But there is something more that has really struck me this summer as I have lead several groups at our church through The Divine Conspiracy.
In Jesus, we have a model of emotional health that is surprising. I am struck by this as I lead Willard one side and am reading Peter Scazzero’s works on Emotional Health on the more intimate side of my study.
I believe that the more grounded and healthy leaders are, the more their congregations and institutions can be grounded and healthy and go far beyond the leader’s capacities. But that sounds like corporate/business leadership in some way.
It isn’t. “The student is not greater than the master.” The people we lead are student to us in some really important ways. We are master in those same ways, and the fact that we deny that doesn’t lessen our responsibility or potential to do life-altering harm.
In models of relationship that acknowledge the role of leader as master (think ye olde world) there is a recognition that the master has responsibilities and that the student or disciple is profoundly shaped by the master. This is not simply a matter of thinking, but of living and feeling and acting.
Some twenty-two years ago a mentor took me to a leadership workshop in Phoenix led by Lief Anderson, a Lutheran pastor, when across town was more popular conference being given by a leadership writer who is a guru of Christian leadership. Chuck Morrison explained why we weren’t going to the popular one. “I have never heard of one person who has worked for him who respects him, and I know of several who have talked about how nasty he can be to work for.”
Now I was college ministry student too young to know much one way or another, but my college professor and advisor was explaining something larger than this conference. He went on to say, “One day you will be a lead pastor, and I want you to be the kind of leader who always remembers what it is like to be under someone else, who sees things from the point of view of those affected by your decisions.” We talked about this at length that day, though I don’t think we ever spoke of it again, nor did it come up in any class I took of his.
But here, two decades later, I still strive to be that kind of pastor. It has slowed me down a lot, to be honest. It has at times led me to take too long to make some decisions. But it also means that I have honestly tried to be the kind of person I would want to serve.
“The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, but it is not to be so with you. The greatest among you is to be the one that serves.” Jesus said that, though I doubt many people remember it. It is not as sexy as the Golden Rule, but it is just as important.
If we are to be healthy disciples of Jesus, we have to be the kind of person who disciples others towards health and kindness. Chuck discipled me in several ways as professor, mentor, advisor, and friend. There is not a single week that goes by that his imprint is not felt in my ministry, though few of my parishioners know it or him.
I was a disciple to him as a worship leader and pastor. This weekend I attended a memorial service for his wife of forty-nine years, Beverly, a saint of God in her own right. The service he put together is not the one I would have, but the care and craft of his work and his words of love, devotion, and gospel are as familiar to me as my own.
It wasn’t just the skills and lessons or the history of hymnody I learned, but I saw in his work a faithful following of Jesus that I hope to grow into.
The amazing thing about our faith is that we are all disciples of One, but at the same time none of us is the Disciple. If I have found the narrow way, it is because some great women and men have held back the bushes of life and pointed the way, walked in front of me, and with me and caught me when I stumbled.
It is true that I have marred the footsteps of Jesus with my own clods, but thank God for the disciples who continue to follow humbly ahead of us, leading us along the Way.
Thanks, Chuck. And the others who have been there along my path, those living who led and carried, those dead who have left cairns, signs, and pilgrims’ guides. Those who showed us more than the rules, but how to live in the way of life.
As the People of Israel used to say, “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.”